Europe’s politics are changing, with French and German presidential elections on the horizon, and voters increasingly apathetic to their leaders. Brexit has become a fact of life; Vaccinations are speeding up, but so is the Delta variant, causing some COVID restrictions to return. The violation of democratic rights in Eastern Europe remains a cause for concern, but economic growth is fast and the first Eurobond in history was a success. What will the next 12 months in continental Europe look like?
Erik Jones, Director of European and Eurasian Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, joins the hosts Peter Schechter and Muni Jensen on Altamar’s latest podcast episode to discuss the changes that are about to take place in Europe.
Jones, a frequent commentator on European politics and political economy, will take over the helm as director of the Robert Schuman Center at the European University Institute this fall. He was featured in the Financial Times, New York Times, USA Today as well as newspapers and magazines on the European continent.
“[Europe is] We go through a lot of different things and we can highlight all of the bad things that every other place is [going through] … but the fact is that a lot of good is happening in Europe too. Good things in relation to the recovery ahead, good things in relation to the solidarity they were able to show during the crisis and with their ability to project themselves outward. So I think there are bad things, but there are also good things in this big, confusing place called Europe, ”says Jones.
The EU and China
Much is said about a “united Europe”, but how united are Europeans on critical foreign policy issues?
“Different parts of Europe have different relationships with China. Germany has deeply embedded China in its supply chain and export markets. And so Germany tries to keep the German economy running, but also to break off relations with China or to discipline China with regard to human rights [abuses] at the same time. … Hungary, on the other hand, is actually looking to China to attract foreign direct investment, ”explains Jones.
Italy is the wild card and a country to watch out for in relations with China. “[Former Italian Prime Minister] Giuseppe Conte decided in 2019 to join the Belt and Road Initiative. Now the new Prime Minister Mario Draghi says: “Maybe we don’t need all these Chinese investments. Maybe we would be better off being more independent from China, ‘”says Jones.
“[The European Union has] Russia never agreed. They never had a common foreign and security policy. That was the fact about Russia. That was the case in the 1990s, the 2000s, and it is now. And the fact that they are no longer sticking together today than they were then is not an indictment against the European Union. On the contrary, they have shown that this time around they have more in common than ever, and that is [seen in] this story about [German-led] Sanctions [against Russia] from 2014. I think they are showing progress. Maybe we just have one other metric to compare it to, ”says Jones.
Prime Minister Mario Draghi is the EU’s new star
Some of Europe’s most powerful politicians are facing major changes in the coming year: Prime Minister Draghi in Italy, President Emmanuel Macron in France and Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany.
“[Prime Minister Draghi] is the guy who saved Europe in the middle of the world [economic] Crisis. This is such an important opportunity for Italy to make the changes that have been needed over the past 25 years. He represents the best opportunity [Italy has]but that doesn’t mean he’s the complete solution, ”Jones replies.
“Parliament is about to Semester bianco or “white semester”, which prohibits the dissolution of parliament during the last six months of the presidential term of office. The jealous ones [Prime Minister] Draghi could see a solution by kicking him upstairs. Sergio Mattarella, the President of the Republic, has to be replaced in January. And the question is, will they make it? [Prime Minister] Draghi President versus Prime Minister. If so, it could usher in a period of relative political instability in Italy. If they don’t [Prime Minister] Draghi could stay for another two years, ”explains Jones.
Where is President Macron heading?
President Macron has grown his presence as a global leader, but at the expense of his popularity at home. In next year’s parliamentary elections, everyone is wondering whether President Macron will get a second term – or whether right-wing populist Marine Le Pen will win? Or could there be a new player at the table?
“[President Macron] had less than a quarter of the [electoral] vote, but managed to become president because he was better than the only remaining alternative, which was Marine Le Pen. His challenge for the next round of voting is not to be popular; it’s just being more popular than anyone else.
“If he makes it into the top two he’s pretty sure he’ll win. If he can’t do that, we have a real problem because Marine Le Pen is becoming increasingly popular over time. And it represents a very different pattern for the French government that would have a huge impact on Europe, ”Jones comments.
Where is Germany headed?
After 15 years in office, Chancellor Angela Merkel has decided to step down as Chancellor and give way to a new leadership. New parties like the Greens won the last election, but Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democrats should not be underestimated. “There are many places where Christian Democrats have completely disappeared. Take a look at the Netherlands right next door. But the Christian Democrats in Germany seemed to be doing much better than their critics had expected. One can assume that they will be part of a coalition that emerges from the next round of elections.
“If so, your manifesto makes it clear that at European level you will not tolerate many changes in the way the economy works, or at least the way in which macroeconomics are regulated. … That is a bit of a shame, because we need much more creative, much more inventive leadership at European level. We need more Mario Draghis, ”concludes Jones.
Altamara is a podcast on global politics hosted by former senior vice president of the Atlantic Council, Peter Schechter, and award-winning journalist Muni Jensen.
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